Category Archives: gastronomy

City of the free lunch

Screen Shot 2016-03-28 at 09.05.24Dalrymple writes that he has

a sneaking regard

for Brussels. What appeals to him is

  • its down-at-heelness
  • its comfortable air of concentrated mediocrity
  • its excellence only in beer and food

It is the kind of place, he says, that

I could easily and happily fit into.

Dalrymple points out that the value that most prevails in Brussels, thanks to the European Parliament, the European Commission, and other institutions, is that of

the free lunch. I have met European politicians there who haven’t paid for so much as a single course of a meal for 40 years or more, and who develop as a consequence that gray, slablike or tombstone countenance that members of the Soviet Politburo used to have.

Dalrymple has

nothing against free lunches myself—indeed I have enjoyed many—but I have never made them the acme of my ambition, nor did it ever occur to me that, in seeking and eating them, I was defending, furthering, or expressing ‘our values’.

The secret of the British economic problem

English cuisine

Emetic: English cuisine

A service economy without the service

The British no longer have the faintest idea how to prepare or serve food, either in establishments they are pleased to call restaurants or in their own homes. According to W. Somerset Maugham, the only solution when in England is to eat breakfast three times a day. But the English can no longer manage with minimal competence even to prepare a halfway-decent breakfast.

British eating houses, bar-grills, cafés and other places where dining (of a kind) goes on, from the humblest truck-stop to the most exalted, starred restaurant, are easily the worst in Europe. It is better, for example, to go to bed hungry than to risk an evening meal at, say, an English public house.

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Suburban Tudor

The Moon Under Water it isn’t

Dalrymple is reminded of this when, hungry one evening and with no other dining establishment in the vicinity, he enters a pub (which, like many from the 1920s and 1930s, is built rather pleasingly in the suburban Tudor style), and is greeted by

the flashing lights of fruit machines

and

Screen Shot 2015-11-01 at 10.45.20numerous large flat screens disposed in such a way that it was impossible to escape them. It was as if one had a duty to watch.

Drivelscreens

At least, he says, they

were all showing the same thing — a football match, football being a 24-hour activity.

Dalrymple dare not complain. British popular culture is

crude, unpleasant and inescapable; if you criticise it, you are taken for an enemy of the people.

The Codfather. Bon appétit!

The Codfather. Bon appétit!

The smell in the pub

was of stale beer and even staler fat in which standard British prolefood had been fried.

He peruses

the grubby menu, a triumph of quantity over quality. The fish dish was called The Codfather, size trumping taste. Everything came with chips, of the frozen variety.

Soupe à l'oignon

Soupe à l’oignon à l’anglaise

The table is

sticky and long unwiped.

Dalrymple orders soup. It is

packet soup which had not been properly dissolved, so that it had little balls in it that if bitten exploded into a kind of salty dust.

He orders steak, and asks for it to be rare. When it comes, it

would have been regarded as incinerated in any other country.

Fried mushrooms: at least their own weight in fat

Fried mushrooms: at least their own weight in fat

The fried mushrooms

contained at least their own weight in fat of some type.

The next morning

I woke with a strange and unpleasant taste in my mouth.

The meal

The flashing lights of fruit machines

The flashing lights of fruit machines

wasn’t even cheap.

This is the vital point. British food is not just atrocious — it is execrable value.

During the meal,

the man who had taken my order came over to my table.

Everything all right?‘ he asked.

Screen Shot 2015-11-01 at 11.02.01‘Yes, very good,’ I replied.

Dalrymple concludes:

The slovenliness, the bad quality, my pusillanimity: voilà the secret of the British economic problem.

The vast continent of the present moment

Screen Shot 2015-04-01 at 21.53.57Although, writes Dalrymple, we

allegedly live in a multicultural age, which in practice means that we like lots of different kinds of food, I am not sure that an age of Facebook and Twitter is one that is propitious to the grasping of outlooks other than one’s own. So absorbed are we in the vast continent of the present moment that we are increasingly unable to travel imaginatively to the foreign land of the past.

Anglo-Saxon gastronomic impoverishment

British culinary imbecility British culinary imbecility

Dalrymple writes:

I happen to dislike prepared foods, though more on æsthetic than on health grounds; I see what people choose and am appalled by their choices, which seem to me to be those of overindulged children who have never matured in their tastes.

He has

no real objection to regulation of the sugar content of prepared foods, provided it was done on intellectually honest grounds. Those grounds would not be that people are incapable of acting other than as they do, but that they are too idle to cook, their tastes and pleasures are too brutish, their habits too gross, for them to be left free to choose for themselves. Someone who knows better must guide them.

Dead meat

Dalrymple on Meals to Die For by the Texas death-row cook Brian D. Price: 'A few years ago...in the bookshop in the airport nearest my English home, I found a volume devoted to the last meals requested by men about to be executed in Texas....To my lasting regret I did not buy the book and have not found it since. It was both horrifying and fascinating....what really horrified me were not the crimes of the condemned men but their choices of a last meal...they all wanted to go out on a full stomach of junk food and industrially produced sweet drinks. Whether the Texas Department of Corrections would have stood for more sophisticated tastes I don’t know: Bélon oysters, for example, and a glass of fine Chablis....My horror at their choices was not quite as frivolous as might at first appear, for junk food is criminogenic.'

Dalrymple on death-row cook Brian D. Price’s Meals to Die For: ‘A few years ago…in the bookshop in the airport nearest my English home [Birmingham Airport], I found a volume devoted to the last meals requested by men about to be executed in Texas….To my lasting regret I did not buy the book and have not found it since. It was both horrifying and fascinating….what really horrified me were not the crimes of the condemned men but their choices of a last meal…they all wanted to go out on a full stomach of junk food and industrially produced sweet drinks. Whether the Texas Department of Corrections would have stood for more sophisticated tastes I don’t know: Bélon oysters, for example, and a glass of fine Chablis.’

British culinary barbarism

Food desertification and the supposed cheapness of industrially prepared foods is a consequence, not a cause, of [poor] food habits.

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